West Africa: West African women's organisations at the 39th session of the African Commission for Human and People's Rights

Women Aid Collective
Statement from the West African Women’s Right Coalition (WAWORC) recently formed in Banjul the Gambia to promote and advocate for the rights of women in West Africa using African Union mechanisms, in particular the African Commission and ECOWAS.
I, Joy Ezeilo, representing Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL) that has an observer status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and speaking on behalf of 15 Women’s groups from West African Countries (Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and also Cameroon).
Recalling that the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights in Article 18(3) provides that “The State shall ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions”.

Bearing in Mind that the African Union has shown further commitment to promotion of women’s rights by adoption of a Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on Women’s Rights in Africa in 2003.

Commending the African Commission for its work and for establishing the office of the Special Rapporteur on Women’s Rights to respond to the yearnings and aspirations of women in Africa for social justice, equality and development.

Recognizing that the Protocol in its Article 2 amongst others enjoins State Parties to combat all forms of discrimination against women through appropriate legislative, institutional and other measures to include in their national constitutions and other legislative instruments if not already done the principle of equality between women and men and ensure its effective application; and also enact and enforce laws to prohibit all forms of violence against women.

Deeply concerned that the status of women in West African are affected by Predominance of cultural stereotypes prejudicial to women including but not limited to various forms of harmful traditional, cultural and religious practices such as early and forced marriage, Female genital mutilation, denial of land, property and inheritance rights, inhuman and degrading rites undergone by widows and other forms of violence against women and girls affecting their health, dignity and rights.

Concerned about the continuing use of customary and religious laws and practices to maintain distinctions and inequalities in laws and practices relating to marriage, divorce, inheritance on the basis of sex and justify denial of fundamental freedoms and rights of women and girls.

Further concerned about the codification of customary and Sharia laws in certain countries of the West African Sub Region without regards to the human rights of women and their right to effective remedy as recognized regionally and internationally.

Deeply concerned by the increasing poverty and violence against women and unequal power relations resulting in the inability of most women and girls to negotiate for safer sex thereby increasing the risk of HIV infection;

Concerned about an alarming rate of maternal and infant mortality, and the vulnerability of women to HIV/AIDS and failure of state parties to the ACHPR and its Protocol to provide women and girls access to healthcare facilities, information including family and sexual education;

Considering the huge gap between law and practice and between formal and substantive guarantee of equality; even when appropriate laws exist they are hardly implemented and most often women are not familiar with their rights and as such cannot respond in cases of violations;

Noting the lack of adoption of adequate measures at national level necessary for full respect of the commitments and obligations under regional and international treaties;

Worried that women’s advocates in the sub region are becoming target of political incarceration for example the case of Mariam Denton the First Female and most senior female lawyer in the Gambia, a well known defender of human rights who has been detained for over one month without charge in solitary confinement contrary to the provision of the constitution of the Gambia- that no person shall be detained for more than 72 hours without charge, the ACHPR and its Protocol which Gambia has signed and ratified.

CALLS UPON all Countries in the West African Sub Region to ratify forthwith the Protocol on ACHPR on Women’s Rights in Africa and address critical issues of concern to women and girls including increasing women’s access to power and decision making. Importantly to ensure the enforcement of existing laws relevant to women at national, regional and international levels;

Embark on comprehensive law reform using Constitutional and legal framework to strike a balance between gender equality and other competing cultural and religious norms. For example repealing private family law and enacting modern family law with general application to women irrespective of status and type of marriage contracted;

Harmonization of civil laws and customary laws and where customary and religious laws are codified that they must take fully into account human rights of women;

Gender awareness training for the judiciary and law enforcement agencies on the rights of women and girls;

Invites the African Commission as the overseeing body on implementation of human rights in Africa to take action to ensure that rights of women as recognized in the ACHPR and its Protocol are respected, enforced and fulfilled at national and local levels.

The African Commission through the Special Rapportuer to conduct comprehensive research - to understand the real issues behind these customary practices not just problems but underlying issues, causes and the changing nature of customary practices that can be used to argue in favour of change; and also undertake a special study on violence against women and HIV/AIDs in the West African Sub Region.

Finally to intervene in the case of Mariam Denton and demand her immediate release by the Gambia Government.

Adopted in Banjul the 9th Day of May 2006 at the Paradise Suite & Hotel, Banjul, the Gambia.

Organizational Parties to this Document under the Umbrella of the West African Women’s Right Coalition (WAWORC)

African Women’s Lawyers Association, (AWLA), Accra, Ghana
Federation of Muslim Women’s Association in Nigeria (FOMWAN)
FAMEDEV, Senegal
FIDA, Cameroon
FIDA, Ghana
GAMCOTRAP, the Gambia
National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) Enugu, Nigeria
Legal Access for Women Yearning for Equality, Rights and Social Justice, Sierra Leone
Society for Women and Aids, Sierra Leone
Women’s Aid Collective, (WACOL) Abuja, Nigeria
Women’s Right Advocates, Research and Documentation Center, (WARDC) Lagos Nigeria
Women Lawyers, Gambia